The days before Herbalife
Jean and Chris Thompson’s story is a little unusual compared to the direct selling norm. Though Jean started as a nurse and Chris built a martial arts academy, through hard work and time they built a large gym brand that listed on the JSE in 1994.
“We started out when the fitness industry was emerging.” Once listed though, the Thompsons sought a change of scene and found what they were looking for in Herbalife.
“Our brand was doing well but we couldn’t see ourselves working for shareholders,” says Jean. “We wanted greater freedom and flexibility, so we sold the brand.” By the mid-90s, the international Herbalife brand was about to launch in South Africa.
“We were introduced to Australian Herbalife distributors who’d come to help with the South African expansion. We didn’t know anything about it, but when we tried the products we got excited about the difference to our health and wellness, and wanted to share it with others, so we began a thorough due diligence investigation,” says Jean.
When the Thompsons started out, Herbalife offered a lot of support. “Herbalife offered total support and does a lot of the work for you in terms of marketing and brand awareness.
“We were mentored by Australian distributors and learnt a lot about the local market ourselves. Initially, our goal was to get South Africans to try the product and agents into the market to sell,” says Chris.
“Now we focus on distribution, training agents and mentoring other distributors.”
Getting to know the brand
The Thompsons travelled overseas for the annual distributors showcase where they saw the number and variety of entrepreneurs involved.
“We wanted to drive entrepreneurship and the health and wellness industry was about to take off. For over 19 years now, we’ve helped and grown teams of great individuals who want to work for themselves, just like we do as proud members of Herbalife worldwide,” says Chris.
What it’s like being a distributor
“We’ve built a large network of thousands of agents who generate income for us through distribution royalties and commission. As their own networks of customers and agents grow, they’re also able to earn greater income,” says Jean.
“We provide training and support to our agents, order and supply stock, interview new candidates, and run workshops on leadership, nutrition and wellness,” she adds.
While other distributors have admin staff to assist, the couple is hands-on and run everything themselves. “There’s very little admin. Herbalife provides administrative support through the web and IT. We also do more evening work as many of our agents work part-time.”
Creating the Herbalife lifestyle
The Thompsons lead by example, starting the day with reading, self-growth and exercise. They then reach out to their networks to track activities and sales targets, and offer outreach advice. “We’re focused on creating communities that are mobile and active. We provide education and support for free through our Nutrition Clubs. The clubs help people change their lifestyles, and this ultimately leads to sales,” explains Chris.
The benefits of direct selling
“We travel a lot, have a great lifestyle, and the business includes our two grown children which is great for our business’s legacy. We’re also able to give friends a business opportunity,” says Jean.
“Herbalife has a top-down structure so our role as distributors is to make leaders who are able to manage their own teams and so on.”
Challenges and opportunities of direct selling
“The most common challenge in direct selling is having the discipline to run your business daily while maintaining focus on growing it strategically. We have past experience but for others it can be a challenge,” says Chris. “It’s a great opportunity to earn additional income for those with a full-time job.”
“Our company’s philosophy is helping people reach their entrepreneurial potential. We don’t look at level of education or work experience, but at someone’s drive to change their future. As little as R500 will get you a Herbalife licence and you can order products on an order by order basis, making it very easy financially to get started.
“Because of the bad reputation of some direct selling schemes, we don’t encourage agents to buy stock, but rather to build organically. Then they grow their own networks and benefit from commission,” says Jean.